Owner no villain
This time, Eugene Melnyk is simply the messenger.
The Ottawa Senators owner snuffed out the lingering hopes of many local hockey fans on the weekend when he confirmed what we had already been told back in April: NHL stars will not be taking part in February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
There will be no 11th hour deals; no peace accord between league, players’ association and Olympic powers; no chance for Crosby & Co. to win another gold for Canada. And that is, quite simply, a shame. Since NHL players headed to the Winter Olympics to represent their countries in 1998, hockey has again become, at least in this nation, one of the highlights of the Games.
That is not to take away from Canada’s women’s team, nor our raft of iconic figure skaters, speed skaters and numerous athletes who have distinguished themselves for this country.
But men’s hockey has offered the chance to see dream teams of Canada’s finest male players — from Gretzky to Crosby — take to the ice wearing the maple leaf on their jersey.
We can understand the hesitancy on the part of the NHL: This is a business. An injury in a “meaningless” game could jeopardize a season; it could end a career.
But for those of us who love the game, the chance to see how the truly best stars of this generation fare against their counterparts from around the world has been a treat.
Yet, aside from delivering the bad news Monday, Melnyk also made another fair point.
The Olympics have long been about amateur sports.
We learn, over the course of roughly two weeks, the stories of athletes who have given everything, sacrificed time with family and friends, to shine for a brief moment on the international stage, for love of craft and country.
Despite scandals over doping, bureaucratic shenanigans, and the ever looming intrusions of politics, the Games are, in their purest form, a showcase of talent and accomplishment rooted in the spirit of competition.
So let’s temper our disappointment at the absence of NHL millionaires. There remains much to be excited about as we approach these Games.
Canada’s hard-working amateur athletes will shine in a spotlight they can now reclaim from the absent pros.
And we should all be cheering them on.